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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on May 26)

All News 06:59 May 26, 2020

Growing nuclear risks
North Korea should not bolster deterrence capacity

North Korea is again raising tensions on the Korean Peninsula by stating it will bolster its nuclear weapons capabilities. This worrisome move was highlighted Sunday in a report from the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) that Kim Jong-un presided over a meeting of the Central Military Commission of the ruling Workers' Party to discuss "new policies for further increasing the nuclear war deterrence of the country."

It is difficult to figure out what the "new policies" are because Pyongyang gave no further details. Yet some pundits have expressed concerns about the report, raising the possibility of the Kim regime conducting tests of new intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) or submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM). At the end of last year, the North threatened to develop "new strategic weapons" amid deadlocked denuclearization talks with the U.S.

The KCNA report could therefore imply that the North will boost its nuclear war deterrence with new ICBMs or SLBMs having greater ranges. If that is the case, Kim could run the risk of scrapping his moratorium on nuclear tests and ICBM launches. This could further jeopardize the stalled nuclear negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington.

We can hardly understand why the Kim regime is trying to escalate tensions and turn the clock back to nuclear saber-rattling. The latest move comes amid the global spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Pyongyang has yet to report any infections in the reclusive country; but it has been widely reported that the North is not exempt from the attack of the highly contagious disease. Thus the North should come out of its isolation and cooperate with the international community to prevent and contain COVID-19.

Yet it is regrettable that the Kim regime is moving in the opposite direction. If it continues to ignore calls to denuclearize and take a path of peace, coexistence and co-prosperity, the North could face a catastrophe. Kim knows better than anyone else that nuclear weapons cannot feed hungry North Koreans. Nor can they bring peace and stability to the peninsula. The nuclear program only destabilizes his regime and increases geopolitical risks in the region.

Kim may think that his nuclear blackmail will put more pressure on the Trump administration, forcing it to make concessions and accept the North's demand for sanctions relief in return for the partial ― not complete ― scrapping of its nuclear facilities and materials. He may also intend to influence the November U.S. election against Trump. But the North will lose more than it can gain from its outdated brinkmanship policy.

Kim could also seek to tighten his grip on power amid deteriorating economic conditions in the North and strengthen discipline in the military. But the more he resorts to the nuclear program, the less chance he stands of prolonging his regime and saving North Koreans from hunger and impoverishment. The only way of ensuring the survival of his regime and his country is to return to talks with the U.S. and start the denuclearization process before it is too late.

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